Ask Tumwater High School head boys basketball coach Josh Wilson what impresses him most about former Thunderbird standout Ethan Dillon and you won’t have to wait around very long for a reply.
“Without a doubt it’s his work ethic,” Wilson said about the 6-foot-2 guard. “Ethan is someone who is completely self-made through hard work and dedication to improvement. He loves the game of basketball and it shows in the time he puts in. He’s also an excellent coach, which shows his basketball IQ for someone so young.”
This statement should carry plenty of weight as few know what Dillon can do on the court better than Wilson, who coached the current South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) men’s basketball freshman for four years.
“Ethan was a guy you knew had love for the game, but had a long way to go to be a varsity player,” Wilson said. “I could instantly tell he was committed to improving, but he needed to work on his shooting and ball handling. I would say he logged more hours in the gym than anyone else and he hasn’t stopped. If you saw Ethan shoot his freshman year and then looked at his shot now you’d think he was a completely different player. I’m so proud of him, his improvements and who he is as a person.”
By the time Dillon graduated high school in 2020 he had made the transformation from undersize freshman with an awkward shot to first-team all-conference selection who helped guide Tumwater to the Class 2A state tournament.
“When I think of Ethan I’ll always go back to our state tournament games where he scored 19 points, 16 points and 21 points to end his senior year,” Wilson said. “He literally had nothing left in his tank with how hard he played. His lips were turning white from pushing himself to his limit. He left a major impression on all the young guys in the program with how hard he plays.”
Two years after his gutsy performance in his final high school games, Dillon is still putting forth the same effort, always pushing himself while viewing every experience as an opportunity to improve.
“Putting on that (South Puget Sound Community College) jersey for the first time really meant everything to me,” Dillon said. “My whole life has been basketball and I’ve always dreamed about playing in college. That has always been my goal, to play at this level. And to have it finally happen it’s just been great.”
But that’s not to say it happened immediately.
Dillon, who was also a gifted tennis player in high school, winning two conference titles and advancing to the state tournament twice, thought when he enrolled at SPSCC in 2021 he’d be playing in the fall. COVID had other plans, forcing the Clippers to cancel all athletics last year and postponing, albeit only momentarily, Dillon’s dream from becoming a reality.
“That was really tough to not have a season last year,” Ethan said. “It was crazy to be playing year round basically my whole life up until my senior year of high school and then not play another game for a year and a half. But I was still working out every day. I just tried to view it as an opportunity to grow and get better even though I wasn’t playing in any games.”
As difficult as it was, the lengthy hiatus, however, did have a payoff.
“As hard as it was not to play, I really did get better as a player over that long time,” Dillon said. “It really benefitted me to have that time off just to work on my game. It’s definitely a big adjustment (going from the high school to college game). Having that year off gave me a great opportunity to get faster and stronger.”
That work has been evident during this season as Dillon has appeared in all 19 games this season for the Clippers, making 11 starts, while averaging 23.2 minutes and 5.3 points a game.
“South Puget Sound has been great for me for so many reasons,” said Dillon about why he picked the Clippers. “Both the school and the basketball program had always really appealed to me. I get to stay close to home. It was important that I was close to my family. As for basketball, we’re a really close-knit team. We all have good relationships with each other. There are just so many reasons why it made sense to go here.”
Under first-year head coach Jonathan Willis, South Puget Sound Community College is one of the youngest teams in the Northwest Athletic Conference this season, featuring just one sophomore on its roster in forward Mekhi Speller-Hale. The Clippers close out their regular season on Wednesday, March 9 at Pierce College.